Which workplace surfaces harbor the most germs?

Desks have 400 times more germs than toilet seats

Employees pick up germs in the break room and spread them to their workspace, leaving desks with 400 times more germs than the average toilet seat, according to a new Kimberly-Clark Professional study.

The workplace's dirtiest surfaces

For the workplace germ analysis, hygienists from Kimberly-Clark's Healthy Workplace Project (HWP) collected nearly 5,000 individual swabs from a range of offices to measure ATP levels, an indication of contamination by animal, vegetable, bacteria, yeast, and mold cells. Surfaces with an ATP count of 300 or higher are considered a high risk for illness transmission.

They found that the following surfaces were most likely to have ATP levels of 300 or higher:

    1. Sink faucet handles in the break room. (75% of the time)
    2. Microwave door handles. (48% of the time)
    3. Computer keyboards. (27% of the time)
    4. Refrigerator door handles. (26% of the time)
    5. Water fountain buttons. (23% of the time)

According to the study, most cold and flu germs are spread in the break room because it is a shared eating space—and every visit to the break room is an opportunity to carry those germs back to workspaces.

"You are dealing with an unregulated restaurant in a lot of ways," says University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba, noting, "People with different hygiene habits are sharing the space with no regulation."

Tips to avoid spreading germs at work

Brad Reynolds—who leads the North American division of HWP—offers five tips to avoid spreading germs at work:

  • Wash and dry your hands upon arrival at work, after using the restroom, and before and after eating (it can reduce germs by 77%);
  • Use hand sanitizer before and after meetings and when leaving work at the end of the day;
  • Clean desk surface, keyboard, mouse, telephone, conference room tables, conference room phone, and water fountain buttons daily with disinfectant;
  • Wipe down the most-touched areas in a break room daily with disinfectant (sink handles, microwave handle, refrigerator handle, and countertops); and
  • Keep hand sanitizer in the break room to reinforce healthy hand hygiene behaviors (Smith, Forbes, 5/22).

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